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[Newsmaker] Park turns to last resort for PR chief

It was like deja vu on Monday when President Park Geun-hye turned to her long-time troubleshooter Lee Jung-hyun to fix the public relations mess at Cheong Wa Dae.

Lee, 56, chief presidential political secretary, was named as her top public affairs aide, replacing Lee Nam-ki, who resigned last month to take responsibility for the sexual assault case involving then-spokesman Yoon Chang-jung.
Lee Jung-hyun
Lee Jung-hyun

The move was to contain criticism toward the presidential office’s communications team, particularly over their poor management of the scandal.

About eight months ago, Lee came to Park’s rescue in a highly similar manner during the presidential campaign. As Park faced growing disapproval toward her election team and their uncommunicativeness, she picked the loyal aide as her PR chief.

Lee, with confidence, approached the media daily, offering his take on what Park thought, and strategically targeted her then-rivals, successfully turning the tables in favor of the Saenuri Party candidate.

Months later, the veteran politician once again stood before the press, promising to improve communication and widen interaction ― the chronic weakness of Park’s team.

On Tuesday, the day after his designation, Lee told the press he would come to the pressroom three times daily, an offer quite unprecedented to the media considering how his predecessor visited less than five times throughout the three months since the inauguration.

On the other hand, the designation of Lee, a political communications expert and former lawmaker, also exposed Park’s limited pool of personnel, the fundamental problem that is considered to have bogged down her administrative momentum.

In explaining Park’s choice of Lee, Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Haing said the most important virtue of the senior secretary for public affairs would be the ability to directly communicate with the president.

Aides being able to communicate well with the president should be a given. The task instead should be just how Lee described his future role to be: Not to unilaterally deliver what Cheong Wa Dae knows but to listen to what the public and the media wish to know and promptly and accurately respond.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)
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